Cordray Defeats Kucinich in Ohio; Blankenship Loses in West Virginia


“That might have been the Trump impact,” he said of his loss. “When you’re 84 percent positive like he is, it can be big.”

In a hard-fought battle in Ohio between two liberal Democrats, Richard Cordray, the former head of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, won the party’s nomination in the governor’s race there over the former congressman and presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich.

The victory by Mr. Cordray, who was endorsed by Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and drew strong labor support, came as a relief to many Democrats who saw Mr. Kucinich as likely to lose in the fall, given his sharply left-wing views and ties to a group sympathetic to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Cordray will compete against Mike DeWine, the state attorney general, who claimed the Republican nomination after an aggressive challenge from Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.

“This victory happened for a reason,” Mr. Cordray told supporters at a hotel in downtown Columbus, as they cheered and waved campaign signs. “You demanded change and we heard you and we want the same.”

Echoing a campaign message that focused largely on helping the little guy, he promised to continue fighting for “kitchen-table issues that people across Ohio told us were on their minds,” including access to affordable health care and spreading out economic opportunity.

Another Ohio contest, however, was more on the minds of Washington Republicans: the nomination battle for the Columbus-area seat vacated by former Representative Pat Tiberi. State senator Troy Balderson, who enjoyed support from Mr. Tiberi, narrowly defeated business executive Melanie Leneghan, a conservative with backing from members of the House Freedom Caucus, in a contest that became a proxy war between party factions.

National Republicans were considering not competing in the special election had Ms. Leneghan won, but now they will likely aggressively target Franklin County recorder Danny O’Connor, the Democratic nominee, in what has been a conservative-leaning district. A special election will be held in August.

In the race for the House seat left open by Representative James Renacci of Ohio, a Republican who easily won the nomination to face Senator Sherrod Brown, former N.F.L. wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez defeated state Representative Christina Hagan in a contest where establishment-aligned Republicans also grew nervous and poured money in to lift Mr. Gonzalez.

Indiana Republicans settled a bloody Senate primary between three largely indistinguishable candidates, selecting Mike Braun, a wealthy former state legislator and business executive, to challenge Senator Joe Donnelly, a first-term Democrat. Mr. Braun campaigned successfully as a political outsider, though his business record is likely to face closer scrutiny in the general election. Mr. Donnelly is another vulnerable Senate Democrat this year, and Mr. Trump is scheduled to campaign against him on Thursday.

“We seem to be in the era of the outsider, said John Hammond, a lawyer and member of the Republican National Committee from Indiana. “That message along with it being extremely well funded, he outspent the other campaigns two to one.”

And in a low-profile election distinguished only by a famous last name, Greg Pence, the vice president’s brother, claimed the Republican nomination in Indiana’s 6th Congressional District. Mr. Pence, who vacuumed up campaign funds from national donors close to his brother, is the strong favorite to win what was his brother’s old seat.

North Carolina did not have any major statewide elections, but voters there delivered the biggest upset of the night: Mr. Pittenger, a third-term Republican, was defeated by Mr. Harris, a pastor who nearly unseated the congressman in the 2016 primary there.

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In North Carolina, Robert Pittenger, right, a third-term Republican was defeated by Mark Harris, a pastor who made his name denouncing same-sex marriage.

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Chuck Burton/Associated Press

The first incumbent to lose renomination this year, Mr. Pittenger sought to repel Mr. Harris by enthusiastically embracing Mr. Trump. But he found little support in return from the administration.

Republicans were already concerned about holding the Charlotte-to-Fayetteville seat — Democratic nominee Dan McCready was outraising Mr. Pittenger — and now must decide how aggressively to support Mr. Harris. Mr. McCready had over $1.2 million in the bank as of last month while Mr. Harris had just $70,000.

In Ohio, Mr. Cordray’s victory in the Democratic primary marks an important initial success in his return to electoral politics after serving for most of a decade in the Obama administration.

His success also demonstrated a show of strength for Ms. Warren and unions against the more far-left elements of the party, including some of Senator Bernie Sanders’s allies who had endorsed Mr. Kucinich. (Mr. Sanders did not make an endorsement in the race.) Should Mr. Cordray win this November, it will give Democrats a foothold back in a battleground state that has been drifting to the right in recent years.

A former Ohio attorney general who was defeated for re-election in 2010, Mr. Cordray faced stiff opposition in his political homecoming, most notably from Mr. Kucinich, a flamboyant 71-year-old former congressman and Cleveland mayor who is aligned with the far left.

Despite collecting endorsements from powerful labor unions and campaigning alongside Senator Warren — a hero to liberals — Mr. Cordray struggled at times to inspire enthusiasm from rank and file Democratic voters.

And after the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., in February, Mr. Cordray agonized over having taken conservative stances on gun control in the past; he had even earned the endorsement of the National Rifle Association in 2010.

Yet Mr. Cordray ultimately had far broader appeal than Mr. Kucinich, who also flailed in the final weeks of the race to explain his past praise of Mr. Trump and his decision to accept $20,000 from a group supportive of Mr. Assad. (After attempting to dismiss questions about the fee, he eventually returned the money.)

Mr. Cordray will confront a tougher and more conventional opponent in Mr. DeWine. A longtime political hand in Ohio and Washington, Mr. DeWine is a powerful fund-raiser with a record of running toward the center in difficult elections. Mr. DeWine is likely to benefit, somewhat paradoxically, from both Mr. Trump’s strength in the state and the popularity of the outgoing governor, John Kasich, a Republican who ran against Mr. Trump in 2016 and is one of the president’s most insistent critics.

The burden will be on Mr. Cordray to show that his populist message and soft-spoken persona can resonate in a state where Republicans have held the governorship for all but four years since the early 1990s.

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Don Blankenship spoke Tuesday night in West Virginia about his defeat in the Republican Senate primary.

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Christian Tyler Randolph for The New York Times

But the most closely watched race — and, for Republicans, the most anxiety-inducing one — was in West Virginia, where Mr. Blankenship threatened to again torpedo the party’s chances for success in a red-state Senate seat.

Claiming victory Tuesday night, Mr. Morrisey quickly turned to what is likely to be the centerpiece of his campaign: driving a wedge between Mr. Manchin and Mr. Trump.

“When President Trump needed Joe Manchin’s help on so many issues, Senator Manchin said no,” said Mr. Morrisey.

In his own statement, Mr. Manchin vowed that the campaign would be “about bringing people together who care about making life better for Americans who work hard for a paycheck.”

President Trump had remained quiet about the primary race even as Mr. Blankenship began attacking Republican leaders, such as referring to the family of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Mr. McConnell’s wife, as the majority leader’s “China family” and calling Mr. McConnell himself “Cocaine Mitch.”

But after a telephone call Sunday with Mr. McConnell, and on the advice of his own aides, Mr. Trump finally waded into the race with a tweet Monday morning aimed at West Virginians.

“Don Blankenship, currently running for Senate, can’t win the General Election in your State…No way!” Mr. Trump wrote, before encouraging voters to support either of Mr. Blankenship’s opponents.

Mr. Trump also invoked the last time Republicans gave away a Senate seat by nominating a flawed candidate, an event that he suggested would live in political infamy. “Remember Alabama,” he wrote, alluding to the party’s nomination of former state judge Roy S. Moore, who lost a special election after a series of women emerged to accuse him of making sexual advances on them when they were teenagers.

Mr. Blankenship faced a series of attacks from Republican groups aligned with Mr. McConnell for his role in the explosion and was also criticized for keeping his official residence in Las Vegas and refusing to fully disclose his extensive financial holdings.

But while Mr. Morrisey and Mr. Jenkins attacked one another, and a Democratic super pac assailed Mr. Jenkins, Mr. Blankenship’s poll numbers crept back up.

By last weekend, when it became clear that he was a threat to win and imperil the party’s one-seat Senate majority, Republican officials determined the moment had come for Mr. Trump to step in.

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Don Blankenship, West Virginia Candidate, Lives Near Las Vegas and Mulled Chinese Citizenship


He is one of three leading Republican contenders heading into the May 8 West Virginia primary, even though he is lugging around enough political baggage to disqualify a candidate most anywhere else.

That Mr. Blankenship retains a political hope is a consequence of West Virginia’s sharp shift to the right, driven by seething hostility to the Obama presidency, both its social changes and its perceived “war” on coal. The emergence of a former coal boss with a criminal record as a potential Senate nominee seems partly an expression of many West Virginia voters’ desire to poke a thumb in the eye of the Washington establishment, Republicans very much included.

Mr. Blankenship offers no apology for his many contradictions and personal and business decisions, some of them previously undisclosed. Though he lives a baronial lifestyle thanks to a fortune built on coal scratched from West Virginia’s mountains, he says the size and origins of his wealth are no one’s business. He is the only candidate in either party in the Senate race who has not disclosed his personal finances as required by law to the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. There isn’t “much of a penalty” for flouting the law, he explained in an interview, justifying his refusal.

“I don’t personally think anybody should have to disclose private information,” he said while awaiting the start of a “meet the candidates” event last week in Cabin Creek, W.Va.

National Republican leaders are alarmed that Mr. Blankenship could emerge as the winner of the primary, which they fear would cost them a winnable seat in November against Senator Joe Manchin, a vulnerable Democrat.

In a highly unusual move, a super PAC linked to Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky senator and Republican leader, began saturating the West Virginia airwaves last week with an ad attacking Mr. Blankenship for poisoning local drinking water from his former coal mines. The nearly $745,000 campaign of TV and digital ads is meant to boost the chances of two conventional Republicans in the race, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Representative Evan Jenkins. A Fox News poll conducted last week found a fluid race, with Mr. Blankenship trailing his rivals but about one in four voters undecided.

On Monday, responding to the attack ads, Mr. Blankenship brought up Mr. McConnell’s marriage to Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation, and questioned whether the majority leader faced a conflict of interest in foreign relations. Ms. Chao’s father is “a wealthy Chinaperson,” Mr. Blankenship said, speaking on a West Virginia radio show, adding, “And there’s a lot of connections to some of the brass, if you will, in China.”

“I read in books that people think he’s soft on China,” he said of Mr. McConnell.

China, as it happens, is a topic of personal interest to Mr. Blankenship. His fiancée, Farrah Meiling Hobbs, was born there. The two met on a flight from Atlanta to Las Vegas about eight years ago, Mr. Blankenship said. According to the website of an international trading company Ms. Hobbs founded, she is “a former Chinese professional basketball player and part-time model” who moved to the United States in 1996.

In 2016 Ms. Hobbs and Mr. Blankenship paid $2.4 million in cash to buy the palatial home near Las Vegas that Mr. Blankenship claims in court papers is his principal residence. It is a six-bedroom, eight-bath Spanish-style mansion with marble floors and a dolphin sculpture beside the pool, according to an online real estate site. (He also owns a residence in West Virginia.)

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Mr. Blankenship’s primary residence is a $2.4 million villa with palm trees and an infinity pool in Henderson, Nev.

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Luxury Homes of Las Vegas

It was purchased just before Mr. Blankenship began a one-year prison sentence following his conviction on a misdemeanor count related to the 2010 explosion at Upper Big Branch mine, the deadliest mine accident in the United States in 40 years.

Though Mr. Blankenship stepped down that year as chief executive of the Massey Energy Company, he exited with his sumptuous earnings intact. Massey paid him $17.8 million in his last year. He gained an additional $86.2 million when the company was later sold, by one estimate.

Part of Mr. Blankenship’s assets are now paying for some $2 million of TV and digital ads — far more than his rivals — that seek to muddy the picture of his 2015 conviction by painting him as a victim of a politically driven “Obama judge” and “Obama prosecutors.”

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A memorial in Whitesville, W.Va., for the 29 miners killed in the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010, the deadliest mine accident in the United States in 40 years.

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Ty Wright for The New York Times

Family members of the 29 Upper Big Branch victims said it was crushing to watch those ads, in which Mr. Blankenship portrays himself as a champion of safety and refuses responsibility for the loss of life.

“I want Mr. Blankenship to say he’s sorry, I want him to feel contrition, I want him to feel compassion,” said Dr. Judy Jones Petersen, whose brother Dean Jones died in the explosion. “People have to understand that Mr. Blankenship is a bad man. Your character doesn’t change.”

In his campaign, Mr. Blankenship positions himself as a West Virginia populist, an “American competitionist” who stands for unfettered capitalism. The heart of the government’s case against him at trial was that he rapaciously sought profit while ignoring mine safety.

Yet he identifies the new frontier of uninhibited capitalism as China. In a telephone conversation he recorded in 2009, introduced at his trial, Mr. Blankenship said he might move to Asia where governments enforce fewer regulations.

“I’m actually considering moving to China or somewhere and being more like George Washington if I can get citizenship,” he said. “I can probably get citizenship in India. I’d rather be in China.”

In the interview, he repeated this sentiment and freely discussed his financial history in China, though he said foreign citizenship was no longer a priority for him — perhaps dual citizenship would be useful, he mused.

He expressed admiration for how Beijing exercises central control over its economy.

“Americans confuse the words communism and dictatorship,” he said. “The Chinese are running a dictatorial capitalism and it’s very effective. That’s the way corporations are run. Corporations are not a democracy.”

Before his foreign travel was restricted after his arrest in 2014, Mr. Blankenship was a frequent enough visitor to China that he opened a bank account there. “When I go over there I don’t have to carry a lot of money with me,” he said in the interview. “If you go over there and you spend some time, you can easily spend a good bit of money.”

Ms. Hobbs and Mr. Blankenship formed a business together in 2012, Generator World, to import home generators made in China. According to records from Panjiva, which tracks global trade, a shipment of 386 items was sent from Fuzhou, China, the next year to Ms. Hobbs’s company, Amerasia International.

“They arrived and we did sell them, but we didn’t grow the business or continue it,” Mr. Blankenship said. “I wasn’t in a position to do that.” It was a dry reference to his trial, sentence and one-year parole, which will end the day after the May 8 primary.

In the absence of much public polling, the clearest sign that Mr. Blankenship is a threat in the race is the hefty advertising budget of national Republicans who seek to disqualify him with voters.

Otherwise, signs of his support can be elusive. He draws sparse crowds to his events, and when he appears at multicandidate gatherings, he shows little knack for political skills. Rather than working a room, he keeps to himself, as he did at the Mineral County Lincoln Day dinner on Friday in Keyser.

“I don’t think someone who’s on parole at this moment in time should be running for office,” Jessica Imes, a voter at the dinner, said.

Mr. Morrisey, the attorney general, moved easily among the party activists dining on stuffed chicken breast and mashed potatoes beneath a giant stuffed moose head at the local Order of Moose hall. His campaign has spent little time attacking Mr. Blankenship, in the belief that primary voters recognize that Republicans should not run a convicted criminal in the general election.

“I think he would get crushed in the fall, crushed,” Mr. Morrisey said.

“The hypocrisy runs deep in this race,” he added. “He’s a Nevada resident. He abandoned West Virginia when we really needed people to stand up to Barack Obama.”

Although Mr. Blankenship maintained in numerous court proceedings that his principal residence was Nevada, he still owns a home in West Virginia, in Mingo County not far from where he was raised. He said he paid property taxes in West Virginia but not income taxes.

There is nothing legally barring him from seeking a Senate seat from the state if he declares a primary residence elsewhere.

He scoffed at the notion that voters might regard him as an outsider, even a carpetbagger, because he lives mostly in Nevada.

“Many people have two homes,” he said. “Most coal miners now have one in Tennessee and one in West Virginia.”

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